MAC team meets the challenge of ‘All My Sons’

Ben Nyberg

By A Contributor

The 2012-2013 Manhattan Arts Center Theatre season opened this past Friday with a presentation in the MAC’s Grosh Performance Hall of Arthur Miller’s 1947 drama, All My Sons. Final performances in the two-week run: October 4, 5, and 6 at 7:30 p.m., and October 7 at 2 p.m.

Having attended our local stage productions for forty-plus years now (at least as long as Shel Edelman has been acting in them!), I’ve witnessed an impressive growth in their overall artistic sophistication. In every respect, from acting and directing to costumes, lighting, and set design and construction, it’s been a steady improvement, season after season.

Of all the advances, none has been more substantial—and to me, most welcome—than the company’s increasing willingness to risk, and then rise to, the challenges of tackling serious scripts. Such progress can be sustained only by strong audience approval and support of the full-house sort I’ve come to consider normal. So, whatever the reason, I can’t help finding the sparseness of last Saturday night’s crowd worrisome.

Because if All My Sons isn’t quite up there with Death of a Salesman or The Crucible, it is nevertheless a thoughtfully crafted, tellingly framed and forcefully worded look into the depths of human responsibility. It has more than held its own against the changes in post-WWII society; it has kept its currency and edge, its claim on our attention.

Predictably, MAC Theatre’s team of players and managers brings the story to life, makes us share in and care about the issues that rule the lives of its people. From the deceptively blue-sky calm of the opening through progressively darker developments to the final climactic emotional storm that engulfs them, the cast demands our belief.

Bearing the drama’s heaviest burden, and carrying off top acting honors is MAC veteran Kim RIley as conscience-conflicted Joe Keller. Tracing the whole spectrum of this character’s reactive range as he sees his world collapse around him during the course of a single day is a daunting assignment. Riley invests himself so fully in the role that we feel the twist of its every turn.

Jenny Clark, as Joe’s obsessed wife, brings such earnestness to the advocacy of Kate’s convictions, along with a winning warmth and kindness, that it’s hard not to simply buy into her illusory agenda and accept that it’s often best to let sleeping dogs lie. Her “reasonable” obstinacy serves effectively to catalyze the buried conflicts of the plot.

As son Chris, fate’s chosen agent of his father’s fall, Jake Belden uses (maybe even overuses) physical stiffness to convey Chris’s relentless honesty and implacable dedication to whatever he believes to be the truth. His struggle, all the more painful for being bottled up, is all the more vehement when it bursts forth.

In the “messenger” role of Ann, Katie Pawlosky enters bright and cheerful (maybe a little too much so, under the circumstances), hoping for a miracle, a peaceful resolution to whatever problems may come, and ends up torn and frayed, forced by circumstances to destroy in order to save.

Supporting cast (including always dependable Sean M. Matthews and, yes, ever reliable Shel Edelman!) did their bits well. Lights and sound were impeccable as usual, Costumes and props, fine, the “Habitat for Humanity” house set quietly serviceable.

Director Jordan Foote’s MAC debut promises well for future outings.

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